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Published on October 15, 2019

debris on the road during a storm

Severe Weather Reminds Us: We’re Not in Control

When weather goes wild, in the form of tornadoes, flooding or other disasters, it reminds us of a frightening truth: the control we imagine we hold over our day-to-day lives can be torn from our hands.

Storms and severe weather can catch everyone off guard, and when they bring damage and destruction, the impact ripples out across entire communities. When things calm down, people typically do as well. But not always.

“Weather can make the way we feel worse, and when it’s severe weather, it can really be a trigger for people predisposed to mental illness,” said Larry Ling, CSW-PIP, Avera Behavioral Health therapist in Sioux Falls. “Intense weather, such as a tornado, can stir up feelings of being unsafe. These events are real – they show that we might not be in control as much as we want to be.”

The effects linger in part because of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and conditions parallel to it, Ling said. The response might not appear for a while after the storms have subsided.

“In the aftermath, people are cleaning up, volunteering, talking to their insurance, things like that,” said Ling. “But when that busy time passes, the emotions settle in, and the event sinks in and that’s when PTSD symptoms or other disorders may flare.”

Even in the face of disasters that are slower moving, such as flooding, time may pass as the psychic damage builds up and then leads to a response. It can vary greatly.

“We might have one person who feels it immediately, or another whose routine is thrown off, and that leads them to realize just how real something like a flood or tornado can be,” Ling said. “We all tend to feel sympathy when we see that a storm hit somewhere far away. When it happens close to home, it makes people realize they’re not immune. They are in the same boat as those they may have felt bad for in the past.”

Ongoing nerve-wracking weather across the Midwest in 2019 led Avera to create the Farm and Rural Stress Hotline, which offers a no-cost, confidential conversation to anyone who needs to talk. The toll-free number is 1-800-691-4336.

Not everyone might be ready to talk to a professional. Family members can help one another – and friends can too – by looking for changes in behavior or attitude. Offering to listen might be the best thing a person can do.

“Farmers often talk to other farmers because they might be able to offer a different kind of support,” Ling said. “If the level of stress is high, being there for someone, or being willing to accompany them when they are ready to get help – those actions are super important in the big picture. Getting better after stressful events is complicated, but having someone provide some outside perspective – taking a step – it can help.”

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